Arkush: Is Trestman the right man?
Had Marc Trestman accomplished everything he has in the National and Canadian football leagues as a defensive coach, he would not be the head coach of the Bears today.
While Bears general manager Phil Emery did conduct one of the most far-reaching coaching searches in NFL history before settling on Trestman, and it did include a few special teams and defensive coaches as candidates, the simple fact is Emery didn’t set out to find the best coach he could, he went off in search of the best offensive-minded coach he could find.
That is why Trestman is in Chicago today.
Trestman is regarded throughout NFL circles as an extremely bright offensive mind and excellent developer of quarterbacks, and there is no dis-pute he’s had a positive impact on the production of most of the offenses he’s worked with. His development of quarterbacks might not stand up as well to the same test, but first let’s take a look at how Trestman tries to get the job done.
Trestman got his start in coaching as a volunteer at the University of Miami in 1981 under Howard Schnellenberger. He was named quarterbacks coach in 1983, and his starting QB was Bernie Kosar, who led the Hurricanes to the national championship.
Schnellenberger left at the end of the season for the USFL and was replaced by Jimmy Johnson, who retained Trestman for the ‘84 season.
In 1985, Trestman made the leap to the NFL as a running backs coach with the Minnesota Vikings. He was hired by Bud Grant, who was returning from a one-year retirement to try to clean up the mess caused by the ill-fated hiring of Les Steckel as Grant’s replacement.
In ‘86, Grant was replaced by Jerry Burns. After that season, Trestman went to Tampa Bay to become the quarterbacks coach under Ray Perkins. It was on to Cleveland to reunite with Kosar, where Marty Schottenheimer was the coach in 1988 before being replaced by Bud Carson in 1989.
In 1990, Trestman returned to the Vikings under Burns, where he stayed two years. Trestman left football in 1991 to pursue his law degree but returned to the NFL in 1995 as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco, and then went on to stops in Detroit, Arizona, Oakland and Miami.
Trestman left the Dolphins after the 2004 season to return to college coaching and then eventually ended up in Montreal, where he was the coach of the Allouettes in the Canadian League from 2008 to 2012.
The point of detailing Trestman’s coaching odyssey is that his early years under Schnellenberger, Johnson, Grant, Burns, Perkins, Schottenheimer and Carson doesn’t dictate any dynamic offensive influence through which you might trace Trestman’s roots. But in 1981, as Trestman was first getting started, Bill Walsh was only a year away from his first Super Bowl title in San Francisco and was unleashing the power and precision of what would come to be known as the “West Coast Offense,” and that West Coast influence has been present in Trestman’s work ever since.
In general terms, the West Coast Offense is a pass-first scheme, but not necessarily a passing offense. It features short precision passes to multiple weapons that open up running lanes as teams are forced to back off the line of scrimmage to defend multiple routes.
While it produced some of the game’s greatest modern-day receivers including Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, some of Walsh’s most effective and productive players were running backs: Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, Ricky Watters and Wendell Tyler.
And, of course, its first two field generals were Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young. The West Coast also has been credited as the first scheme under which the coach – Walsh – scripted the first 15 to 25 plays of the game.
A staple of the West Coast is the use of running backs as receivers, lots of one- and three-step drops after which the quarterback throws the ball to spots, trusting his receivers will get there and constantly attempting to throw the ball against defenses stacked for running situations and running into nickel and dime defenses.
A more modern-day Trestman wrinkle also is escalating the pace at which plays are called and run, putting the offense in a constant attack mode and often forcing the defense to play on its heels and out of less-than-desireable formations because it is difficult to make personnel substitutions when the offense is running in rapid fire.
According to almost every knowledgeable source I’ve talked to, Trestman has as deep and clear an understanding of the West Coast Offense as any coach in the game, and he is excellent calling plays out of it. Unfortunately, that all goes for naught if you don’t have a quarterback capable of executing the scheme. That is where things get a bit grayer when it comes to Trestman.
NFL quarterbacks with significant starts in the league with Trestman as their coach include Steve DeBerg, Vinny Testaverde, Kosar, Rich Gannon (Minnesota and Oakland), Wade Wilson, Steve Young, Elvis Grbac, Scott Mitchell, Jake Plummer, A.J. Feeley and Jay Fiedler.
While Young is one of the all-time greats, he was there before Trestman arrived, and the quarterback with the second highest passer rating in NFL history had only one season between 1989 and 1998 – 1990 – in which his rating was lower than it was in his two seasons under Trestman.
The one true gold star on Trestman’s quarterback resumé is Gannon, who he coached to an Offensive Player of the Year award in the Raiders’ 2002 season. Other than that, Trestman’s QB alums make up an awfully pedestrian list, and not a one of them had his best season or seasons – as measured by passer rating – under Trestman.
Again, he is highly regarded by a number of highly regarded NFL folks as a QB coach. But these are the stats, and Bears have to hope that in this case, they do lie.
With Trestman’s outstanding offensive pedigree and the significant personnel upgrades the Bears made during the offseason on the offensive line and at tight end, there is good reason for optimism on that side of the ball in 2013. The fact that Matt Forte already is a Pro Bowler and yet so ideally suited to what Trestman likes to do offers even greater promise.
The one great unknown as we head to Bourbonnais is if Jay Cutler is ready to be coached and if Trestman has what it takes to unlock his QB’s unlimited potential. I believe Cutler is entitled to the benefit of the doubt at least one more time on the coachability front, but the one area where Cutler has not demonstrated great skill is in the kind of accuracy and repetitive mechanics that made Montana, Young and Gannon so effective in this scheme. If Trestman can teach him that, then the Bears once again will be playoff contenders and there will be no question that he was the right man for the Bears head coaching job.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears and pro football for the Shaw Media. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.